Carson Center’s Open Studios event a virtual success

EMA student Annie Wang inside her virtual room. Screenshot by Ryan Holland.
EMA student Annie Wang inside her virtual room. Screenshot by Ryan Holland.

Carson Center’s Open Studios event a virtual success

calendar icon27 May 2020    user iconBy Kathe C. Andersen

Lincoln, Neb.--Students from the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts shared their work from the spring semester StoryLab and Visual Expression Studio classes in a virtual Open Studios event on Mozilla Hubs inside a 3D virtual model of the Carson Center on May 1.

“It had all the feeling of a real-world production—the preview of the show, the one-on-one with artists and ‘gallery’ goers, the DJ, the catharsis, the fatigue, the excitement and exhilaration, the feeling of absence and collapse after the show closed,” said Assistant Professor of Emerging Media Arts Jesse Fleming. “It was not real, and it also was very real. There were limitations and there were new affordances. It was, what a lot of our world has become and will be becoming increasingly—liminal.”

Assistant Professor of Emerging Media Arts Ash Eliza Smith said the event helped expand the connections they could make.

“I think the ability to bring in guest critics and reviewers from around the world and have people from all over attend the Open Studios was really special,” she said. “I connected with people I haven’t seen in a long time and was able to show them around the Center and connect them with students.”

The use of Mozilla Hubs created new opportunities for students and faculty in the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts to create connection, community and art making during COVID-19.

The Carson Center used Mozilla Hubs to teach, build community and display work during the period of virtual learning at Nebraska that began on March 30 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mozilla Hubs is a browser-based, 3D, virtual-world chatroom accessible on most computers, mobile devices and virtual reality headsets and is also an open-source project that explores how communication in mixed reality can come to life, according to Mozilla Labs.

Ben Kreimer, a creative technologist-in-residence at the Carson Center, built virtual rooms replicating the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts’ physical space at 13th and Q streets.

“HDR architect Tyson Fiscus gave me the official sketch-up architectural model [3D files] of the Carson Center, and then I converted them and set them up inside of Mozilla Hubs,” Kreimer said.

Smith said Mozilla Hubs was an extension of their Carson Center community.

“We have so many different platforms going on and discourse,” she said. “We have Canvas, Twitch, Zoom, Jitsi, Slack. And now we actually have Mozilla Hubs and exploring different ways of embodiment in this time of ‘stay home’ messaging.”

“And unlike those kinds of platforms,” Kreimer said. “Being able to communicate in 3D, it kind of brings out a lot of the other feelings. I’m looking at Jesse or I’m looking at Ash while we’re talking, which is not something you can do in text-based chat. We’re bridging what it’s like to communicate in real life.”

Fleming said the Mozilla Hubs space created community while building on what they teach in the Carson Center.

“This space gives a sense of connection that’s unfounded in other forms of virtual communication,” he said. “You feel like you’re in a bit more of a community. It also plays into areas that we’re already exploring—virtual reality, augmented reality, immersive media, virtual production.”

Smith also liked Mozilla Hubs because she found it liberating from her physical being.

“I find this space really liberating because sometimes in Zoom, there’s too much pressure on my camera, and not that I’m always looking at myself, but just even considering the way I’m looking and everyone else is looking and all of our faces in the squares,” she said. “I feel very liberated when I’m in here hanging out. I can really play with my identity and be kind of free of my IRL [in real life] body. That feels liberating to me and helps me explore community and relationships and new kinds of ways that aren’t linked to my physical characteristics.”

For more information on the Carson Center, follow us on social media at @carsoncenterunl.